The Postmortem on Russian Interference in 2016 Election

The Postmortem on Russian Interference in 2016 Election September 24, 2018

The New York Times as a very long and detailed investigative report summing up everything we know with a high degree of certainty about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, from hacking to fake social media accounts spreading discord and fake news, to the active recruitment of Trump associates by Russian intelligence. It’s far too much to quote, but here’s the upshot:

But to travel back to 2016 and trace the major plotlines of the Russian attack is to underscore what we now know with certainty: The Russians carried out a landmark intervention that will be examined for decades to come. Acting on the personal animus of Mr. Putin, public and private instruments of Russian power moved with daring and skill to harness the currents of American politics. Well-connected Russians worked aggressively to recruit or influence people inside the Trump campaign.

To many Americans, the intervention seemed to be a surprise attack, a stealth cyberage Pearl Harbor, carried out by an inexplicably sinister Russia. For Mr. Putin, however, it was long-overdue payback, a justified response to years of “provocations” from the United States.

And there is a plausible case that Mr. Putin succeeded in delivering the presidency to his admirer, Mr. Trump, though it cannot be proved or disproved. In an election with an extraordinarily close margin, the repeated disruption of the Clinton campaign by emails published on WikiLeaks and the anti-Clinton, pro-Trump messages shared with millions of voters by Russia could have made the difference, a possibility Mr. Trump flatly rejects.

We will never know, can never know, whether this interference actually swung the election because doing so would require that we be able to know the identities of people whose minds and votes were swayed by these efforts. But as the Times says, in an election so close, with only about 80,000 votes total in three states making the difference, there’s a very reasonable case to be made that it did make the difference. So far, Putin has only gotten part of what he wanted (a pliant president who has done everything he can to deny such interference, slow-walking new sanctions and sowing enormous discord and chaos in our political system.

But he hasn’t gotten what he really wanted more than anything else: The lifting of the sanctions put in place in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and occupation of Crimea. That’s largely because Congress, in a rare show of spine and bipartisan unanimity, passed a law by staggeringly large margins requiring Trump to maintain and even expand those sanctions. This is the primary, indeed one of the very, very few examples of checks and balances acting as a restraint on Trump.

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